Peace Corps to Team Rubicon: ChangeUp’s Founders Were Volunteers First

ChangeUp’s commitment to social good was born through the experiences of its team. Our CEO, Bob Soderstrom, and CTO, Raj Kamachee, both have backgrounds committing significant personal time to important causes. Bob served with the United States Peace Corps in Papua New Guinea, and Raj worked with Team Rubicon to rebuild communities after natural disasters. 

Bob’s Story

Bob Soderstrom served in the Peace Corps in a village of 800 people of the Gimi tribe in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. 

“It was rainforest but at an elevation of 7,000 feet and the only way into the village was via a little 4 seater bush plane that delivered mail and medicine a couple of times a month,” he says. “The airstrip was all grass and sloped downward on the side of a mountain and was bumpy and terrifying to land on.” 


Soderstrom served in the Peace Corps in Maimafu village in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea.

Bob’s primary job was to open the very first school for the children in the village. He recalls, “It was quite powerful to see over 100 villagers show up on a Saturday, adults and kids, with armfuls of long Kunai grass and bamboo to weave the walls of the school and build the rooftop. The first two classrooms were open air and completed in a single day.”  

In Maimafu, Soderstrom built and opened the first school, a one room classroom made out of bamboo.

As he prepared for the first day of school with the other Peace Corps volunteer, Bob toured the village house lines—long rows of houses built along the ridge lines of the green mountains—and talked to the villagers about the school schedule and curriculum. It was there that he learned of adults’ need to sell coffee beans to a wholesaler that came once a year, and many of the villagers competed against each other for the best price for their world-famous beans. The idea was then hatched to create a coffee growers’ cooperative that agreed upon a single price for everyone in the village that would be unshakeable against the wholesaler buyers. 

A week later, many of those adults walked with their kids through the rich rainforests full of exotic birds and vegetation on their way to the first day of school. Bob remembers, “Each kid brought a flower and presented it to me on the first day and I had 72 flowers in a pile!” The kids were all of varying ages and many adults sat on the little plank benches in the thatched classrooms with their children. 

“At that point I told the parents and grandparents that they could leave because class was about to begin,” Bob says. “But they all stayed seated and one grandfather said, ‘Me too, I want to learn how to read.’”

That’s when Bob got overwhelmed and couldn’t hold back his tears. “I had to step aside and compose myself. I realized the bigness of what was going on and that every person on planet earth has the same yearning to learn and grow.” 

And the coffee growers’ cooperative? They set a village best in total revenue that year and celebrated with a large “Mumu” by wrapping food in banana leaves and cooking it in a massive, underground earthen oven for days. “It was one of the most memorable parties of my life!” Bob says.

Raj’s Story

Raj Kamachee has been a lifelong advocate of social justice. His parents immigrated from India to Malaysia, where Raj grew up in a community-focused neighborhood in a small, predominantly Chinese settlement that saw neighbors helping neighbors by pooling resources. His family didn’t have a lot of money, but they had support from those around them.

Team Rubicon’s volunteers of military veterans have worked in disaster areas all over the world.
Photo: Team Rubicon website

Raj took these lessons with him when he moved to the U.S. Having worked in multiple startups and in the defense industry, his passion for helping others still found an outlet. A dedicated martial artist, Raj trained underprivileged youth to instill self confidence, discipline and to provide an outlet for them, even waking up at 4 am to give rides to the gym and train.

He then went on to work with Team Rubicon, a veteran-led disaster response organization–started in Los Angeles with just eight members–that serves global communities before, during, and after disasters and crises. 

Recognizing that veterans’ military training, service and experience make them uniquely qualified to respond to disasters, TeamRubicon positions veterans to make decisions and take action in the austere environment of disaster. Since its founding, Team Rubicon has equitably served communities both big and small: from Hurricane Harvey in Texas to flooding of homes in a small Rio Grande community, to Hurricane Sandy, to Dengue Fever in the Marshall Islands, to a single flooded home in North Carolina. 

Raj says, “When you go to remote, low-attention disaster areas, you see the worst and yet unknown. We’ve seen families who have lived their whole lives through generations. And whatever happens, they’re not going anywhere,” he says. “And you’re not going to see them on CNN or on the news when things are going haywire. These are the silent communities who are just so resilient…But they can definitely use a helping hand.”

After 5 years as both CIO and CTO of Team Rubicon, Raj saw the team grow to 250 of employees and 160,000 volunteers.

Raj’s work with Team Rubicon, like Bob’s time in the Peace Corps, were powerful experiences that showed the two founders up close the ability of humans to make a positive impact in the world. Now, ChangeUp is their way of providing that same kind of impact, but via software that empowers people, merchants and nonprofits to connect using transformative technology.

Regarding non-profits, Raj said it best: “All they’re asking for is money. And this is what ChangeUp enables. We’re collecting micro-donations, but with the law of compounding effect, everything adds up.”

It all starts with the power of giving. Add our donation technology to your e-commerce site today.


Support Ukraine